Movie reviews: A Most Wanted Man, Pride, The Boxtrolls

A Most Wanted Man *****

Movie reviews: A Most Wanted Man, Pride, The Boxtrolls

A Most Wanted Man (15A) opens by telling us that Hamburg was the city where the 9/11 attackers planned their atrocity, then introduces us to Gunther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a German spy charged with infiltrating the city’s Islamic community to develop intelligence sources. When the half-Chechen, half-Russian Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin) arrives in Hamburg, requesting that human rights lawyer, Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), put him in touch with banker, Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), Bachmann spots an opportunity to ensnare the ostensibly respectable Muslim leader — but suspected terrorist enabler — Faisal Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi). As the pawns shuffle around the board, however, various intelligence agencies jostle for position and the right to make the killer move. Adapted from John le Carré’s novel and directed by Anton Corbijn, A Most Wanted Man is a superb addition to the canon of spy thrillers, le Carré’s bracingly cynical tale of post-9/11 realpolitik benefiting hugely from Corbijn’s photographer’s eye, its clean, spare lines and neon-lit palette a sharp contrast to the chiaroscuro and murky shadows of the classic Cold War film. Hoffman, who died earlier this year, is in phenomenal form as a kind of disillusioned George Smiley, so compelling he threatens to unbalance the film — the eye is riveted to his bear-like, but emotionally raw and fragile, character as he appears to channel a bedraggled Richard Burton (Burton, of course, starred in the 1965 adaptation of le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold). The movie plays with the structure of the novel, but Corbijn, and screenwriter, Andrew Bovell, are faithful to the tone and themes, with the result that A Most Wanted Man is an absorbing spy thriller with an Oscar-worthy performance at its heart.

Opening in 1984, Pride (15A) is based on the true story of how a London-based gay and lesbian activist group raised funds to help the striking miners, then engaged in a bitter dispute with Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government. The brainchild of the charismatic Mark (Ben Schnetzer), the fund-raising initiative is intended as a show of solidarity by one beleagured group — Britain’s gay and lesbian community — for another. Unfortunately, most of the miners’ unions don’t want help from ‘the gays’, and it’s only due to a mix-up in communication that Dai (Paddy Considine), a miners’ representative from the remote valleys of South Wales, finds himself accepting their offer. If that all sounds a little worthy — it is; Pride is a noble tale that deserves telling — writer Stephen Beresford and director, Matthew Warchus, have taken a delightfully irreverent path to telling it (think Brassed Off with added disco flair). The culture clash between the flamboyant Londoners and their (initially) homophobic counterparts from the Welsh valleys is ‘mined’ for humour, as you might expect, but there’s also pathos and poignancy in the journey both sides take on the way to mutual respect.

Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West, Andrew Scott and George Mackay all shine in a very strong ensemble cast, but the real star here is the beautifully nuanced script, while Warchus’s nimble direction facilitates a very effective, and hugely entertaining, mix of hilarity and fear and loathing.

Loosely based on Alan Snow’s book, Here Be Monsters!, The Boxtrolls (PG) opens with our eponymous anti-heroes — they are little trolls, who wear boxes — emerging from the sewers to plague the village of Cheesebridge by stealing away its children.

Pledged to track down the boxtrolls is chief exterminator, Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Ben Kingsley), who craves the ‘white hat’ that confers the ultimate in Cheesebridge respectability; but the boxtrolls are unfairly maligned, being illiterate, but highly intelligent, creatures who scavenge through the village’s waste for recyclable salvage.

Led by Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright), the young boy they saved from certain death when he was a baby, the Boxtrolls begin to fight back against their imminent extermination. Directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Staachi, with Elle Fanning, Simon Pegg, Jared Harris and Richard Ayoade also contributing to the voice cast, The Boxtrolls is a great film that succeeds on a number of levels. The animation is superb, offering a brilliantly grotesque vision of a Dickensian village with its useless politicians, grasping middle classes and shadowy underworld, while the story — which may prove a little too dark in places for the very young — dabbles in ‘big issues’, such as moral responsibility and the cynical demonising of a particular class or race for the sake of political gain.

That said, there’s plenty of slapstick comedy and visual gags, too, while the industrious Boxtrolls are a delightfully endearing creation.

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